Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared at something approaching the frontlines of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak Monday, in what appeared to be an attempt to stifle criticism of the authorities’ handling of the crisis.
In a 42-second video released by state broadcaster CCTV, Xi was shown visiting several locations in the capital Beijing dedicated to fighting the virus, getting his temperature taken and speaking to medical staff.
Throughout the video, which has no audio other than a background piano track, Xi wears a disposable surgical mask — the type Chinese officials have been urging people to don in order to avoid further spread of the virus.
Coverage of Xi’s outing in Beijing has been carefully controlled. Chinese state media outlets, even those which usually pursue their own editorial lines, are running copy from the official Xinhua news agency, along with the CCTV-produced video — often a sign that the message is being specifically managed by the central authorities.
Xinhua and CCTV are the two most important institutions in the Chinese media, and their coverage typically guides how other outlets cover politically sensitive issues.
While Xi’s outing was itself fairly inconsequential in practical terms, its timing is politically sensitive, coming after Xi had effectively vanished from newspaper front pages and news broadcasts, which he usually dominates.
Monday was the first time he has been seen directly engaging in virus-related efforts. The closest he came before that was a meeting in the Great Hall of the People with World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on January 28.
The rarity of Xi’s outing, as well as the push to ensure wall-to-wall coverage of it, shows how Chinese authorities are going to play the virus crisis going forward.